Saturday, November 04, 2006

Calling all Mama-readers

I just finished one of the best books I've read to describe the stage of parenting I happen to be at right now, with small people in the pre-school, beginning of school years stages.

Margaret, one of the main characters in Eliza Minot's novel The Brambles, is the mother of three young children and the sections of the book that are told from her perspective manage to weave in so many perfect descriptions that I found myself saying "Yes! Yes yes yes!" out loud when I was reading.

Listen to this:

"Nothing manufactured in their brains yet, practically, to hold things in--"I don't like you, Momma!" --to keep it together, the life in them bursting out at the seams, in shambles. "My stupid stupid life!" It was both heartbreaking and hysterically funny to watch. And infuriating. And humiliating."

and this

"But what, meanwhile, was happening to her? To Margaret? Not much. Simply, she is here. In the moment, as they say, behaving like a waitress, a handmaiden, a love slave, alternately ill-treated and then adored, worshipped by the little people. Humiliated and adored. Part goddess, part foot soldier, every day varying, yet every day the same."

I always joke with Brian that I should have a cocktail waitress costume to don to accommodate the number of (non-alcoholic) beverages that I'm demanded to serve each day. I don't remember ever being so thirsty all the damn time when I was a kid. I haven't read any other book that so captures the pleasures and the tedium of being a primary care giver to small kids.

The rest of the book is good too--the stuff from the youngest sister's perspective also hit home a lot. She's single and self-critical and wondering where to find meaning in her life. I can't say I related to the brother's sections because much of his struggle with identity related to his work and due to my strange lack of ambition, I've always been reluctant to define myself in terms of work. I think I define myself more by the people around me, whether they be work compatriots or friends or (now) the small people/tyrants.

All three of the siblings are confronting their identity questions within the framework of the overall story, in which their father is dying. This was handled so quietly. There wasn't a whiff of melodrama about the death, both leading up to it, the actual death scene and then the siblings' responses afterwards. I'm still not sure how she managed to make this scenario so interesting and yet so subtle and unflashy.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Honey, I've shrunk the kibbeh...

Since our Greenfield Village membership expired last year, our frequency of visits to Cedarland in Dearborn has also decreased dramatically. I may have mentioned before that my son, one of the ranking picky eaters out there, has an unusual accommodation for Middle Eastern preparations of lamb. The kid won't eat plain spaghetti or a strawberry, but give him kafta or kibbeh and he'll eat them without complaint.

I'm not skilled enough to make the lovely little football-shaped kibbeh that you get in restaurants (and no, we aren't fans of the raw version), but baked kibbeh in a pan is surprisingly easy to make.

I remembered this last week when perusing a copy of Eating Well at the library. This magazine and I don't have a great track record, since their recipes are too virtuous for the likes of me or my salt and fat-loving family. But I figured I could take their healthy recipe for Turkey Kibbeh and turn it back into a delicious, fatty version with little effort.

I went to Sparrow Meats and bought a half pound of ground lamb (theirs is usually very fatty) and a half pound of mixed lean ground beef and buffalo to substitute for the turkey (if you have access to lean ground lamb then I'd just use that). The only thing I didn't count on was quite how much fat there would be and how this would shrink the kibbeh once it baked.

Here is the kibbeh after I drained off the moat of fat around it--a good inch of so of shrinkage from the sides of the pan.
But it still tasted damn good, especially when served like this:
There are roasted sweet potatoes with smoked Spanish paprika, kale with lemon and garlic, the kibbeh and a yogurt/cucumber/tomato/garlic sauce. I'll include the recipes for the sweet potatoes and kale soon.

Baked Kibbeh
thoroughly bastardized from an Eating Well recipe for Turkey Kibbeh...

1/2 C bulgur
1 T olive oil
1 small onion finely chopped
1/3 C toasted pine nuts
1/2 t ground cumin
1 t kosher salt
1/2 t ground allspice
1/4 t cayenne pepper
1/4 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground black pepper
1/2 lb ground lamb
1/2 lb ground beef or buffalo
and if you aren't serving this to a parsley-phobic kid, add in 1 T chopped parsley

Yogurt sauce:
1 1/2 C plain yogurt (low or full fat)
1/2 a medium cucumber, peeled (unless homegrown), seeded and diced
1 small tomato, diced
1 T chopped parsley
1 T of chopped mint if you have it
1 small clove of garlic, pressed through a garlic press
1/2 t salt
ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 450. Coat a 8 x 8 or 6 x 10 inch baking dish with cooking spray. Place bulgar in a bowl and cover it with hot tap water.

2. Heat oil in a small skillet over medium heat and add onion. Cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Stir in pine nuts.

3. Drain the bulgar, pressing on it to remove excess liquid. In a large bowl, mix it with the lamb, beef or buffalo, cumin, salt, allspice, cinnamon, cayenne, pepper and optional parsley. Mix until combined.

4. Pat half of the meat mixture into the baking dish. Top with the onion/pine nuts, pressing gently into the meat layer. Cover with the rest of the turkey mixture, pressing gently into the onion layer. Cover with foil.

NOTE: the dish can be refrigerated now until about 45 minutes before dinner.

5. Bake the kibbeh for 30 minutes. Take off the foil and drain off the copious quantities of fat that will have accumulated in a moat around your kibbeh. Notice how much it has shrunk and praise it for its willingness to let go of its fat. Put the kibbeh back in the over for about 15 more minutes UNCOVERED so the top will brown a little.

6. Cut into squares. Serve with the yogurt sauce (which is just the above ingredients combined in a bowl. Duh.)

Sunday, October 29, 2006


6 women, 3 open bottles, and another hiding behind the flowers on the sideboard...
Marilyn, Diane, Sarah, Me and Lea (Meg is taking the photo)

My book group met last week and ate and discussed David Maine's Fallen. If you want to hear what I thought of the book when I first read it, head back over to this entry.

We had a really interesting discussion of the parallels between Cain's and Eve's characters and thoughts and doubts. A few folks didn't like the reverse storytelling (which I love). They felt like each chapter ended with them wanting more and wanting to move ahead in time rather than backwards. I completely relate to this feeling, but I also think that it makes me a more active reader; I have to fill in more and work harder to synthesize the events since they aren't being laid out for me.

Of course, to accompany our discussion there was good food and wine. Sarah started us out with a terrific, and easy, feta appetizer (recipe below):
Then we moved on to the rest of the good stuff:
From top right: Kebabs, buttery rice, pita, Salad with beets/red peppers/cucumber, noodle kugel and chickpea bulgar salad.

After dinner, we celebrated the apple (even though we noticed that the fruit of the tree of knowledge sounds a lot more like a grapefruit in the book) with a Tarte Tatin I made.
It was decent (because how can anything that has that much butter and sugar not be at least ok?), but suffered from being made in the early afternoon. The puff pastry was a little soggy by the time dessert rolled around.

The next book we read is Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

Sarah's Excellent and Easy Feta Appetizer
  1. Get a block of good feta--in the Middle Eastern stores around here you can pick from domestic (pass on it), Bulgarian (very good and tangy) and usually one more variety (sometimes made with sheep's milk, also excellent).
  2. Put the feta in a wide shallow bowl, pour a copious quantity of good green extra virgin olive oil over it. Mash with a fork. Grind lots of black pepper over the top and serve with toasted or warmed pita triangles, and mixed olives.

Coming to a preschool auction near you...

I finally finished finishing the two baby sweaters for my daughter's preschool auction. Here we have two sized 12-18 month old baby sweaters:
I found some cute sunshine buttons for the sheep sweater:
but I had the dickens of a time finding buttons that looked good with the lavender sweater. Purple is devilishly hard to match. I bought some pretty abalone shell flower buttons, but they sat too flush with the surface of the sweater and I could tell they would end up being cursed at by the parent of the eventual wearer because they would be tricky to button and would probably spontaneously unbutton themselves. I finally settled on these pearly white hearts. I'm not so fond of the material (plastic) but the seem to do a good job holding the cardigan together and they look decent enough.
Now I just have to wait until November 8th and see how much they go for!